My Imaginary McGwire Steroid Press Conference

He had a good swing, which steroids don't give you

Mark McGwire issued a statement to the Associated Press today in which he addresses his link to steroids.  He admits using them.  This ESPN article contains the full text of his statement.  At the end of his statement he says that he will be willing to take questions about his steroid use.

I like McGwire.  I think he is a kind-hearted man, in part because of his notable record in charity work.  I also think he is genuinely not an attention hound, whether the flashbulbs be coming from the stands or congressional hearing reporters.  And, after all, we’re talking about steroids in baseball, not financial theft, rape, or misleading nations into war (high-profile Americans have done all three since 1998 and gotten better treatment than McGwire has received).

Here is a transcript of the Q&A session I would like McGwire to have with reporters.  The real thing would take 3 hours, but this is my condensed fantasy version.

McGwire: I am holding this press conference to answer any questions the media may have about my steroid use.  I am now the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, and despite what Tony LaRussa says, I won’t be playing the game again.  I think an honest, good faith conversation may go a long way to restoring fans’ confidence in the last 20 years of baseball.

There are only two rules.  I will not say where I got the steroids from.  It took me five years to admit my usage, and I will not drag others out of the closet.  Second, once spring training starts, I will not discuss this with anyone.  The regular season belongs to the Cardinals.

Reporter:  When did you take steroids?

McGwire: I took them [lists seasons in which he took them, or off-seasons in which he took them]

Reporter:  What steroids did you take?

McGwire:  I took [lists the steroids he knows, and says there are some he no longer remembers the name of]

Reporter:  Why did you take steroids?  Did you feel you were cheating?

McGwire:  I dabbled in steroids during the 1988 off season, as they were a supplement I had heard would help my workouts.  I did not seriously consider them until I started getting hurt, repeatedly, in 1993.

Did I feel I was cheating?  Yes, sort of.  I knew they were illegal, but I wasn’t doing heroin or coke, which I felt were and are a more grave category of illegal drug.  My usage, in my mind, was personal and revolved around baseball.  Baseball did not prohibit them, nor was there any mechanism for baseball discovering my usage or disciplining me for it.  Major League Baseball was not interested, as a body, in discovering that players were using steroids.  Many players I knew were also taking steroids, and I was batting against them and my team was battling their teams for the playoffs.

I was hurt, and I was told that steroids and HGH would help me heal and prevent further injuries.  I desperately wanted to play ball, to contribute to my team, and to be healthy.  I was afraid that my career would sputter out, and I acted out of that fear.  Other teams’ hitters were juicing.  I didn’t want to do less than I was capable of to help my team win.  It’s a decision I now regret, but I want you to understand that decision.

If I did not take them, my injuries continued, my team lost, and my career ended, no one would admire or even know about my actions.  Or so I thought.  I would be a failed big slugger.  I did not feel up to the challenge of being the righteous avatar for pure baseball.  I did not feel it was my responsibility, nor one I could bear.  What was important was to play the game I loved, in the environment in which I found it.  Baseball at the time was an environment in which I could use steroids without serious consequence except to my health and conscience.

Reporter:  Did you talk to your team mates or coaches about steroids?  Were there players who told you that you were cheating them, or cheating the game?

McGwire: There were occasional comments, yeah.  But people mostly kept their usage, or lack thereof, to themselves.  Everyone had team mates who used, or who probably used, so there were no collective teams who could throw stones.  And remember, steroids were leading to health, and health was leading to better performance, and better performance was leading to more money.

I can’t say for sure which home runs, or even singles, I hit because I was jucing.  But I was paid more money because I was hitting more home runs.  Which meant that the guys hitting fewer home runs also made more money.  Same with the pitchers.  I hope I did not end any pitcher’s career by hitting him hard, but you can say the same about juicing pitchers ending hitters’ careers.  An all-star getting a big contract raises everybody’s salaries.  It was true in the 1970s, the 1990s, and today.

Reporter:  So you don’t deserve the millions of dollars you were paid.

McGwire:  Teachers in Philadelphia make $40,000 a year.  “Deserve” isn’t a word that makes a lot of sense when talking about professional athletes’ salaries.  My salaries were a result of the vast amounts of money baseball owners were making from our play.  That play was tainted by steroids.  If you are flirting with the idea of fans and “clean” players deserving to be paid back, you need to talk to owners as well.

Reporter:  You are active in charity work, and whether you ask for it or not, baseball players are role models to children around the country.  How did you rectify your steroid use with your position as a role model?

McGwire:  That was a very difficult part of my life.  I guess I feel that mistakes can be, if not undone, then atoned for by hard work and good deeds.  If I did not take steroids, and my career ended, I would not have been in a position to do much charity work or be a role model.

I have tried to help the lives of children through my charity work, and I believe some of their lives are better despite my steroid usage.  What’s more, although it may seem like cold logic, my steroid usage paid me the money with which I funded that work.  I think one’s moral judgement on that fact is pretty subjective.

What would I say to children aspiring to be athletes?  Do not take performance enhancing drugs of any kind.  You short change yourself and your accomplishments.  I am sorry I took them, and if I could do things over I would avoid them completely.  They have caused me immeasurable grief.  But I do hope I can be an example, not of decision making, but of how to, eventually, own up to your mistakes.

Reporter:  Do you think people who used steroids should be in the Hall of Fame?

McGwire: That isn’t for me to decide.  I will not name names and I don’t want to be seen as a finger pointer.  But what should be made clear is that everyone, from owners to managers to players to union officials, was complicit in the steroids era.  Everyone but umpires and fans participated in some way, either by using steroids or encouraging their use or turning a blind eye.  Steroid users were not isolated bandits terrorizing the good people of Baseball Town.

Does the Hall of Fame represent the best baseball players who ever played?  Or some more idealized image of how we think of the game?  That, I think, is the fundamental question.  I know some of the best players to ever play used steroids, and I believe they would be Hall of Famers if they had not used them.  I think baseball, as a whole, needs to decide if the Hall is for baseball as it is, or baseball as we want it to be.

Reporter:  What are your thoughts on players who test positive but say they did not knowingly take steroids?

McGwire:  That is certainly possible.  You have to understand that, particularly with Latin American players, there is a lot of misinformation and exploitation out there.  Imagine you are living in a poor Dominican Republic town, 18 years old.  Baseball skills are your only feasible route to a life not dominated by poverty.  You’ve heard about steroids, but you are far from sound medical advice, you don’t know how bad they can be for you.  Some recruiter or coach says that he can make you into a major league player if you train with him and give him some of your earnings.  Would you take medicine he tells you to take?

That is obviously a hypothetical, but those sorts of situations and pressures exist.  The media has said that ignorance is an easy excuse, or that it is no excuse.  That’s probably right.  But I’ve met or heard of unscrupulous handlers who would not blink about talking a young, naive kid into taking HGH if it meant a pro contract from which the guy will get his take.

Reporter:  It sounds like you are saying that steroids, in the 1990s, were a personal failing and that you should not be held accountable to fans or the league more generally.

McGwire:  I avoided discussing steroids in Congress because I was not personally or mentally ready to do so.  Because of that decision, and because of the decision I am making by speaking to you all, I think I have received my fair share of punishment.  Taking steroids was more than a personal failing, it was an undermining of the trust between fan and athlete which pays all of our salaries and provides magic for millions.  I am very sorry for the role I played in tarnishing that magic.  But I am not a person who believes that guilty people are beyond contribution or meaningful contrition.

What I want to offer is an honest, frank look at why a successful baseball player could take steroids, and at the circumstances in the game which allowed such a problem to flourish.  I want to help curtail the speculation and accusation that detracts from the game.  I believe that players, like myself, who took steroids have an apology to make to baseball fans, but that they are not proof that baseball is no longer the best sport in the world.

Reporter:  The home run race between you and Sammy Sosa was credited with saving baseball after the 1994 strike.  Surely you heard that hype during and after that season.  Did you feel like you had defrauded America into believing in a game that was actually fundamentally rotten?

McGwire: Ouch.   And not really.  I love baseball, and I’m sorry for the role I’ve played in tarnishing its reputation.  But to love something and be terribly upset with it is better than to not care about it at all.  If I helped reinvest people in baseball, if fans found a love for the game they did not previously possess because of my home runs, I’m glad to have helped that.  Of course, I betrayed their trust by juicing, but I want to help repair that trust.  Baseball is bigger, grander, and older than any one player, or even a generation of players.  The steroids era will be a black mark on the game, but we can hand it off to a new generation of clean, classy, exciting players.  That is, I feel, what I have to offer now.  The ability to help answer nagging questions about the past, and the ability, in part as the Cardinals hitting coach, to guide the next generation of players into fans’ hearts.

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One Response

  1. I’m curious to see how this admission will affect the BBWAA’s voting on McGwire…will it up the percentage and by how much?

    He received 128 votes this year and it is possible that enough journalists will write themselves into disregarding him, but it isn’t out of the question that he’ll get another 40-50 votes in one year.

    This does pretty much doom him to never getting elected though.

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